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December Book 19) Unfinished Tales

19) Unfinished Tales, by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien

Another piece of Tolkieniana, one that I'd been putting off reading for years, fearing that it would be as big a disappointment as The Silmarillion. But in fact, taken on its own merits, there are some excellent bits here. The first half of the book, which is basically three chunks of narrative which didn't quite make it into The Silmarillion, is especially good, although the very first part, a lovely description of Tuor's journey to Gondolin, is a bit short on action.

But then we get to the out-takes from the tale of Túrin Turambar, always my favourite bit of The Silmarillion. We get a new insight into Túrin as flawed hero (and what made him flawed), and new details of the story of his life and death. It is a real shame that significant parts of the narrative are left out, with a note that we should see The Silmarillion for the relevant text. Is it beyond the wit of Tolkien's estate to produce a canonical version of the Tale of the Children of Húrin, pulling together all the relevant material and published as a single volume? There would be a market for it.

The last substantial piece of narrative is the story of an early king of Númenor, whose family disintegrates as a result of his neglecting them to pursue his own personal obsession. Having read Tom Shippey, it's not too difficult to see this as an expression of the author's own fears, if you substitute Tolkien's exploration of Middle-Earth by pen for Tar-Aldarion's explorations by ship. I can't offhand think of another example of marital estrangement in Tolkien's works, certainly not one explored in such depth.

The second half of the book consists of much shorter pieces, some of which are little more than Christopher Tolkien's attempts to retcon his father's unpublished notes with the published material on this or that historical point. I found it interesting that in the last years of his life the elder Tolkien was trying to rewrite Galadriel as almost a more feminist figure. The story of the lead-up to the events of The Hobbit, as told from Gandalf's point of view, was also rather fun. And the pieces on the Woodmen, the Wizards and the Palantírs made for decent extended footnotes to The Lord of the Rings.

Top UnSuggestion for this book: Magical Thinking: True Stories, by Augusten Burroughs

Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
inulro
Dec. 29th, 2006 05:47 pm (UTC)
I attended some lectures by Tom Shippey in my year at Leeds. He was highly interesting, and I deeply envied those who were in his tutorial groups.
korvac
Dec. 29th, 2006 08:34 pm (UTC)
I hadn't realised that I did not add you back. Whoops!
rcfinch
Dec. 29th, 2006 09:36 pm (UTC)
I take it you know that the entire story of Turin Turambar - including most of the material from Unfinished Tales - will be published as a separate book next April, titled The Children of Hurin.
nwhyte
Dec. 30th, 2006 09:15 am (UTC)
Aha, I was completely unaware of that until you and captainlucy told me. That is good news. I take it you are lined up to do the Dutch translations?
rcfinch
Dec. 30th, 2006 10:57 am (UTC)
I was lined up, but it appears I was second (or third) in line. My own fault, probably: some years ago I refused to do a translation for this particular publisher, and after that I also failed to keep in touch. Now I can only hope the person who got the job will improve on Schuchart's old translation Unfinished Tales.






captainlucy
Dec. 29th, 2006 09:40 pm (UTC)
Is it beyond the wit of Tolkien's estate to produce a canonical version of the Tale of the Children of Húrin, pulling together all the relevant material and published as a single volume?

As far as I know, that's exactly what Christopher Tolkien is doing in 2007. I know there was a lot of talk about it on theonering.net and other Tolkien forums a few months back, as it promises to be the last of Tolkien's works to be published.
nwhyte
Dec. 30th, 2006 09:15 am (UTC)
Aha, I was completely unaware of that until you and rcfinch told me. That is good news.
seawasp
Dec. 29th, 2006 10:13 pm (UTC)
Odd.
I found The Silmarillion fascinating and read it several times. Unfinished Tales was much weaker, in my view.
nwhyte
Dec. 30th, 2006 09:16 am (UTC)
Re: Odd.
I loved the Silmarillion when I was a teenager. But going back to it last year I was more conscious of its weaknesses.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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